Old Brooklyn resident one of the first women in the Marines
January 01, 2010, 10:22AM
Eleanore Sonich has lived a life that few of us can match. The Old Brooklyn resident was one of the first women to join the Marine Corps. It was at the height of the American involvement in World War II, and the 20-year-old Sonich had seen many of her neighborhood boys answer the call to arms to defend their country.
Sonich, born and raised in the Tremont neighborhood, felt an obligation to help in the war effort because her father had been a World War I veteran and believed in serving one’s country. Eleanore, now 86, said that it was a time of patriotism.
“Women were working in factories,” she said, “but I chose to join the Marines.
“I was sworn in a month before I turned 20 years old,” Eleanore said. “They made me come back on my 20th birthday — July 19, 1943 — to swear me in again. In September, I left for boot camp in Camp Lejeune, N.C. where I was stationed for the duration of the war until I was discharged in 1945.”
Sonich was assigned to the Office of Base Defense at Camp Lejeune. “They didn’t call us ‘secretaries,’ ” she said. “Anyone who worked in the office was a clerk. They took us out to the field where they were training officers and firing the big 150-millimeter Howitzers and anti-aircraft guns. They wanted us to know what we were recording in the reports.”
Sonich recalled some of the other women Marines as pretty tough ladies.
“We were afraid of women who drove the trucks and troop transports,” she said. “They smoked cigars,” she said with a laugh. “They were in the motor pool, and they were the toughest ladies I ever saw in my life. They had to be tough.”
Looking back on her experience as a Marine, Eleanore admitted that it was hard to fit in with battle-hardened veterans who felt their was no place for women in the Corps.
“Women today wouldn’t stand for what we had to face,” she said. “Guys didn’t like the fact that women were able to come into the Marine Corps. They would poke fun at you and say, ‘What are you doing here? You should get out of here.’ You just had to walk around with your ear muffs on.”
Two Marines, in particular, left a lasting impression on Eleanore.
“Pappy and Pop used to tease me more than the other Marines,” she said, “but before they were shipped out to go overseas, they came up to me and said if they hurt me in any way, they were sorry. One of them said, ‘I’m not coming back,’ and the other one said, ‘I’m coming back.’ One of them didn’t come back, but I’m not sure which one it was.”
On Oct. 28, Eleanore and her daughter, Bonnie Sonich, joined 35 other World War II veterans from the area on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. to visit the WWII Memorial that was dedicated in 2004.
Honor Flight is a national organization that flies veterans to our capital as a way of thanking them for their service to our country. The non-profit organization is currently focusing on flying as many WWII veterans as it can to D.C. All expenses for the veterans are paid by the local Honor Flight chapter. The group that went on Oct. 28 included 12 women — the largest group of women the Cleveland chapter has ever flown to Washington, D.C.
In addition to visiting the WWII Memorial, the group also visited the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
“What struck me most about the trip was the outpouring of support from the public,” Bonnie Sonich said. “In the airports, both in Cleveland and Baltimore, we were greeted by current military personnel and volunteers. As we were walking down the concourse, an announcement was made that a group of WWII veterans was traveling to D.C., and spontaneous applause broke out from others waiting to catch their flights.
“Many people came up to us at the WWII Memorial to thank the ladies and gentlemen for their service,” Bonnie said. “School groups stopped to talk and have their photos taken with an actual veteran. You could see the joy and pride in the faces of the veterans and could tell this was a very special day for them.”
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